Giorgio de Chirico, Italian, 1888-1978
Oil on canvas
Signed lower right: G. de Chirico
10 5/8 x 7 1/2 in. (27 x 19 cm)
Purchased from Anonymous Donations, 1938
The metaphysical artist Giorgio de Chirico painted dozens of self-portraits during the course of his career, ranging from elaborate full-length costume pieces and compositions redolent with literary and historical references, to simple, straightforward bust-length likenesses.
Throughout his career, de Chirico returned again and again to certain favored motifs: female nudes, deserted Italian piazzas, the Dioscuri or horses along the shore, enigmatic bathers, and not least, his own distinctive likeness. As in the rest of his oeuvre, the painterly styles and formal references employed in these works vary widely. Several self-portraits of the 1920s, for example--like the one of 1920 in the Staatsgalerie moderner Kunst, Munich, or that of 1924 in the Kunstmuseum, Winterthur--invoke compositions by earlier artists, such as Nicolas Poussin, and thus parallel the inventive explorations of neoclassicism seen in de Chirico's contemporary subject pieces.1 In addition to more conventional formats, de Chirico also painted several self-portraits flamboyantly clad in seventeenth-century costume 2 or in the nude.3
The Oberlin self-portrait was painted in the mid 1930s, a decade in which de Chirico painted comparatively few self-portraits.4 The most important self-portrait of these years is the full-length Self-Portrait in the Paris Studio of 1935, in which the artist represented himself in the act of painting, with an unfinished canvas on the easel before him.5 More directly related to the Oberlin painting are a series of simple, bust-length self-portraits; especially comparable are a painting of 1932, which shows the artist with a younger, leaner face;6 and two others dated about 1934 and 1937.7 In each, the artist is situated before a plain background, and fixes the viewer with an intent gaze. Judging from details of the artist's physiognomy (the sagging jowls, the prominent nose, and the receding chin) and his apparent age, the Oberlin painting was probably executed around 1935 or slightly later.
The unarticulated blank form of the artist's shoulder and chest is unusual (see Technical Data), although de Chirico did intentionally retain a semi-unfinished effect in many paintings of the period. The rough, swirling application of paint in the background of the Oberlin Self-Portrait, for example, also dominates the more formal Amazon of 1934 (Rome, private collection), a full-length portrait of his wife Isabella.
M. E. Wieseman
Giorgio de Chirico, the originator of metaphysical painting, was born in Vólos, Greece, in 1888. He was a pupil at the Akademie der Bildende Künste in Munich from 1906 to 1910, and was profoundly influenced by the bizarre juxtapositions of the commonplace and fantastic in the works of Arnold Böcklin (1827-1901) and Max Klinger. Around 1910, de Chirico produced his first "enigmatic" pictures, in which an uneasy atmosphere and feeling of disjuncture is enhanced by deep, oppressive, empty spaces. In 1911 de Chirico moved to Paris, where the influential poet and critic Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918) was instrumental in introducing him to leading modernists like Picasso, André Derain, and Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957). De Chirico was drafted into the Italian army in 1915, but suffered a nervous breakdown and was sent to the military hospital at Ferrara in 1917. There he met the Futurist painter Carlo Carr (1881-1966), whom he converted to metaphysical painting.
De Chirico's theoretical writings of 1910-20 stress the importance of time and memory in the creation of art, seeking renewal in the use (rather than the rejection) of history. An historical element permeates his entire oeuvre, from the metaphysical paintings of 1910-20 to the neoclassicist constructs of the 1920s, and his many copies and interpretations of old masters. De Chirico returned to Paris in 1924, where his work was especially influential for the Surrealists. In Italy during the 1940s, de Chirico turned to more conservative subject matter, and toward the end of the decade affected a lush, painterly, neo-baroque style influenced in part by his study of old masters. His reuse of earlier styles and motifs in paintings of the 1940s and later (including copies of some of his most famous works) was roundly criticized, as it was felt to be deceptive chronologically, and hence in terms of value. The artist defended himself by declaring that both the concept and execution of the works were his own, and the date of execution therefore immaterial.8 De Chirico worked in a variety of media well into old age, producing theater designs, illustrations and color lithographs, and sculpture, in addition to paintings.
Carr, M., Patrick Waldberg, and M. Rathke, eds. Metaphysical Art. New York and London, 1971.
Bruni Sakraischik, Claudio, et al. Catalogo generale dell'opera di Giorgio de Chirico. 8 vols. Milan, 1971-83.
Rubin, William, ed. De Chirico. Exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1982.
Purchased from Theodore Schempp, New York, in 1938. 9
Oberlin, Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College, 1940. Modern French Paintings. 1 - 25 November. Cat. no. 4.
Stechow, Wolfgang. Catalogue of European and American Paintings and Sculpture in the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College. Oberlin, 1967, p. 35, fig. 139.
The original canvas has been lined onto a medium-weight fabric with a prepared ground, and the original tacking margins removed. The painting seems to have been placed on a new strainer after lining. The paint layer is generally thin, with white ground showing through in the background. There is a thin horizontal band of inpainting (about 7.5 cm long) directly under the nose of the sitter. There are areas of what appear to be light grey overpaint in the white (shirt) area; over the white and beneath the grey layer are remnants of a salmon or rose paint. Although this overpaint may have been applied by the artist, it was added after cracking developed and goes around the signature at lower right.
1. Oil on canvas, 50 x 39.5 cm, Munich, Staatsgalerie moderner Kunst; and oil on canvas, 76 x 61 cm, Winterthur, Kunstmuseum.
2. There are two portraits of this type dated 1947 and 1948 (both Rome, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, Isabella Pakszwer de Chirico Donation); and another dated 1959 (private collection, Trieste).
3. See the two nude self-portraits of 1945 (both Rome, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, Isabella Pakszwer de Chirico Donation).
4. Maurizio Fagiolo dell'Arco, Giorgio de Chirico: Gli anni trenta, 2nd ed. (Milan, 1995), p. 55.
5. Oil on canvas, 130 x 76 cm, signed right: G. de Chirico, and bottom right: G. de Chirico 1935; Rome, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, Isabella Pakszwer de Chirico Donation; reproduced in Claudio Bruni Sakraischik et al., Catalogo generale dell'opera di Giorgio de Chirico, vol. 1, pt. 2 (Milan, 1971), no. 13.
6. Oil on canvas, ca. 25 x 20 cm; Rome, [formerly] collection Giorgio and Isabella de Chirico; reproduced in Claudio Bruni Sakraischik et al., Catalogo generale dell'opera di Giorgio de Chirico, vol. 1, pt. 2 (Milan, 1971), no. 5.
7. Location unknown; and oil on canvas, 19 x 17 cm, private collection; reproduced in Maurizio Fagiolo dell'Arco, Giorgio de Chirico: Gli anni trenta, 2nd ed. (Milan, 1995), p. 60, no. 20, and p. 341, no. 2B, respectively.
8. De Chirico's La Solitudine (AMAM inv. 88.23), in fact, may represent such an instance of the artist reprising a popular theme explored earlier in his art.
9. In a letter to former museum director William Chiego, dated 19 February 1988, in the museum files, Schempp recalled: "The de Chirico which Oberlin bought from me in 1937 [sic]--the "Self Portrait"--is a mystery too. I simply cannot recall from whom I purchased same and have no records. I doubt if it was from de Chirico...."